Witnessing to the Gospel
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible readings: Philippians 1:27,28; 1 Peter 3:15; John 13:34-35 (Guiding Principle 5 - Witnessing to the Gospel)
What a lofty goal! Our decisions and actions WILL be a positive witness to the gospel. Except when they are not. Because we are sinful people and we will get it wrong. And we all have bad days. But hey, even when we fail, it is a great opportunity to think about this guiding principle!
When we drop the ball, act in a way of which we are ashamed, say things we should not have said, (and hey we have all done it. I am the worst at that!) We have the opportunity to show each other, and anyone else who may be watching, just how we pick each other up and care for those who are hurting.
Getting our words right is a big one, and the eighth commandment; not to bear false witness is (in my opinion) about the hardest one to keep. When we are frustrated with someone, it is so easy to want to complain about them to someone else, to run them down. When we gossip, complain, speak to people in meetings and church or public life in a way that is not appropriate for children of God, we do not give a good impression to those watching from the outside about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. But it is something that there are very few who can say they have not done. I have known some, one in particular I used to refer to as one of God’s own gentlemen. He never had an unkind word to say about anyone. How great it would be to be known that way. He was an encourager in the church, and friendly to everyone. He is a man I would like to emulate. This is the positive opportunity we have if we keep this guiding principle in front of us.
In how we act.
As committees and auxiliaries of the church, we can show people that we do take seriously what we believe, by the way we act, so in matters of finance for example, everything we do will be transparent and above board. Why? For fear of getting caught if we do it wrong? No, because it is the right thing to do, because we can be trusted with these things.
We will be professional in our dealings with each other, in protecting the dignity and safety of all those entrusted to our care. Again, this is because of our faith, not from fear of getting caught doing the wrong thing. We strive to be an example. Every person with whom we come into contact is a child of God, loved by him, and we, in growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, will treat them in the same way.
In how we treat each other.
Christians fighting with each other over things that make no sense to those outside the church, is listed as a big stumbling block in surveys of why people are not Christian, or at least, not members of churches. Remember, that the church and God are not the same thing. Many people believe in God who are not inside our churches. BUT: it is hard to stay in the faith, to have your faith survive if it is not fed. If we as members of churches drive people away because of their disgust at the way we treat each other and those around us, we are being the stumbling block placed in front of them, and can be directly responsible for someone possibly losing their faith! How awful.
I have told people before that it is one of my greatest fears as a Pastor, that I will say or do something that will inadvertently trip someone up on their walk with Jesus. This is the opposite of what we want, isn’t it? So at St. Marks we will strive to help people in their walk, to encourage them, shoulder their load for them, we will strive to be the kind of community that people will want to be part of, a family that welcomes them, a group that encourages them.
Contrast this with the opposite: I know of a woman whose husband died, she was a believer but not a church member, although her family was. After the funeral of her husband she made the first tentative step and came along to worship. This was an opportunity to embrace her with the love of a congregation. Instead, one woman in the church said to her: “You have a lot of nerve showing your face here after all these years” or words to that effect. And the door was slammed shut in her searching heart. She never, (to my knowledge) returned. Not a great witness to the love of Jesus Christ was it?
I am sure that we have all heard stories of Christian people who will sit in church piously on a Sunday, and then rip people off in business during the week. Sad stories of hypocrisy. And they do get noticed.
But we have the opportunity to shine the love of Jesus in our lives just by being who we are, by taking our faith seriously for the full 168 hours a week, not just the one a week where we are worshipping together.
And lastly, I want to talk about what being a witness means. A witness is someone who talks about what they have seen. Not someone who demands that others do the same. In our grow coaching meeting last Saturday it was mentioned that Christian people do not tell their stories enough. In other words, when someone in your family is struggling, you can say “Well why don’t you go to church?” Which, let’s face it, makes the shutters come down behind their eyes straight away and almost guarantees they will not, OR:
Maybe it would be helpful to say: “You know, at times in my life when I was struggling with this same kind of issue, I don’t think I would have got through them if it were not for my faith. It always helped me to go along to worship and reconnect with God. It gave me the peace I needed. Have I ever told you about the time….etc.
And then leave it at that. Isn’t it funny with we modern people that we are happier to do something if we feel we have made the decision ourselves? But if someone tells us to do something we don’t want to listen?
Tell your story. Tell people what God has done in your life, the miracles, the healing, the peace. This is your witness. Then leave the rest to God. And pray.
This is how we be someone’s church family. Theis is how we witness to them.
This is the last of our guiding principles. They are things that we believe all Christians can follow, and wouldn’t this church be wonderful if we got them all right every time? They are things to aspire to, and we will try our best. And we will get them wrong, and then forgiven by our Lord Jesus Christ we will try again.
May God bless us here, and you. Wherever you are, as you grow, together with those God has placed around you, into Christ centred, spirit guided, inclusive disciples of Jesus Christ, witnessing to his love.